The Birth of The War-God (Canto Sixth ) – Uma’s Espousals

Now gentle Umá bade a damsel bear To Śiva, Soul of All, her maiden prayer: ‘Wait the high sanction of Himálaya’s will, And ask his daughter from the royal hill.’ Then ere the God, her own dear Lord, replied, In blushing loveliness she sought his side. Thus the young mango hails the approaching spring By its own tuneful bird’s sweet welcoming. In Umá’s ear he softly whispered, yea, Then scarce could tear him from her arms away.

Swift with a thought he summoned from above The Seven bright Saints to bear his tale of love. They came, and She, the Heavenly Dame, was there, Lighting with glories all the radiant air; Just freshly bathed in sacred Gangá’s tide, Gemmed with the dancing flowers that deck her side, And richly scented with the nectarous rill That heavenly elephants from their brows distil. Fair strings of pearl their radiant fingers hold, Clothed are their limbs in hermit-coats of gold; Their rosaries, large gems of countless price, Shone like the fruit that glows in Paradise, As though the glorious trees that blossom there Had sought the forest for a life of prayer.

With all his thousand beams the God of Day, Urging his coursers down the sloping way, His banner furled at the approach of night, Looks up in reverence on those lords of light. Ancient creators: thus the wise, who know, Gave them a name in ages long ago: With Brahmá joining in creation’s plan, And perfecting the work His will began; Still firm in penance, though the hermit-vow Bears a ripe harvest for the sages now. Brightest in glory ‘mid that glorious band See the fair Queen, the Heavenly Lady, stand. Fixing her loving eyes upon her spouse, She seemed sent forth to crown the sage’s vows With sweet immortal joy, the dearest prize Strong prayer could merit from the envious skies. With equal honour on the Queen and all Did the kind glance of Śiva’s welcome fall.

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No partial favour by the good is shown: They count not station, but the deed alone. So fair she shone upon his raptured view, He longed for wedlock’s heavenly pleasures too. What hath such power to lead the soul above By virtue’s pleasant path as wedded love! Scarce had the holy motive lent its aid To knit great Śiva to the Mountain-Maid, When Káma’s spirit that had swooned in fear Breathed once again and deemed forgiveness near. The ancient Sages reverently adored The world’s great Father and its Sovran Lord, And while a soft ecstatic thrilling ran O’er their celestial frames, they thus began: ‘Glorious the fruit our holy studies bear, Our constant penance, sacrifice and prayer. For that high place within thy thoughts we gain Which fancy strives to reach, but longs in vain.

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How blest is he, the glory of the wise, Deep in whose thoughtful breast thy Godhead lies! But who may tell his joy who rests enshrined, O Brahmá’s great Creator, in thy mind! We dwell on high above the cold moon’s ray; Beneath our mansion glows the God of Day, But now thy favour lends us brighter beams, Blest with thy love our star unchanging gleams. How should we tell what soul-entrancing bliss Enthrals our spirit at an hour like this? Great Lord of All, thou Soul of Life indwelling, We crave one word thy wondrous nature telling. Though to our eyes thy outward form be shown, How can we know thee as thou shouldst be known? In this thy present shape, we pray thee, say Dost thou create? dost thou preserve or slay?

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But speak thy wish; called from our starry rest We wait, O Śiva, for our Lord’s behest’ Then answered thus the Lord of glory, while Flashed from his dazzling teeth so white a smile, The moon that crowned him poured a larger stream Of living splendour from that pearly gleam: ‘Ye know, great Sages of a race divine, No selfish want e’er prompts a deed of mine. Do not the forms—eight varied forms—I wear, The truth of this to all the world declare? Now, as that thirsty bird that drinks the rain Prays the kind clouds of heaven to soothe its pain, So the Gods pray me, trembling ‘neath their foe, To send a child of mine and end their woe. I seek the Mountain-Maiden as my bride: Our hero son shall tame the demon’s pride. Thus the priest bids the holy fire arise, Struck from the wood to aid the sacrifice.

Go, ask Himálaya for the lovely maid: Blest are those bridals which the holy aid. So shall more glorious honours gild my name, And win the father yet a prouder fame. Nor, O ye heavenly Sages, need I teach What for the maiden’s hand shall be your speech, For still the wise in worthiest honour hold The rules and precepts ye ordained of old. This Lady too shall aid your mission there: Best for such task a skilful matron’s care. And now, my heralds, to your task away, Where proud Himálaya holds his royal sway; Then meet me where this mighty torrent raves Down the steep channel with its headlong waves.’

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Thus while that holiest One his love confessed, The hermits listened: from each saintly breast Fled the false shame that yet had lingered there, And love and wedlock showed divinely fair. On through the heaven, o’er tracts of swordlike blue, Towards the gay city, swift as thought, they flew, Bright with high domes and palaces most fair, As if proud Alaká were planted there, Or Paradise poured forth, in showers that bless, The rich o’erflowings of its loveliness. Round lofty towers adorned with gems and gold Her guardian stream the holy Gangá rolled.

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On every side, the rampart’s glowing crown, Bright wreaths of fragrant flowers hung waving down,— Flowers that might tempt the maids of heavenly birth To linger fondly o’er that pride of earth. Its noble elephants, unmoved by fear, The distant roaring of the lions hear. In beauty peerless, and unmatched in speed, Its thousand coursers of celestial breed. Through the broad streets bright sylphs and minstrels rove: Its dames are Goddesses of stream and grove. Hark! the drum echoes louder and more loud From glittering halls whose spires are wrapt in cloud. It were the thunder, but that voice of fear Falls not in measured time upon the ear.

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‘Tis balmy cool, for many a heavenly tree, With quivering leaves and branches waving free, Sheds a delightful freshness through the air,— Fans which no toil of man has stationed there. The crystal chambers where they feast at night Flash back the beamings of the starry light. So brightly pure that silver gleam is shed, Playing so fondly round each beauteous head, That all seem gifted from those lights above With richest tokens of superior love. How blest its maidens! cloudless is their day, And radiant herbs illume their nightly way. No term of days, but endless youth they know; No Death save him who bears the Flowery Bow: Their direst swoon, their only frenzy this— The trance of love, the ecstasy of bliss! Ne’er can their lovers for one hour withstand The frown, the quivering lip, the scornful hand; But seek forgiveness of the angry fair, And woo her smile with many an earnest prayer.

Around, wide gardens spread their pleasant bowers, Where the bright Champac opes her fragrant flowers: Dear shades, beloved by the sylphs that roam In dewy evening from their mountain home. Ah! why should mortals fondly strive to gain Heaven and its joys by ceaseless toil and pain? E’en the Saints envied as their steps drew near, And owned a brighter heaven was opened here. They lighted down; braided was each long tress, Bright as the pictured flame, as motionless. Himálaya’s palace-warders in amaze On the Seven Sages turned their eager gaze,— A noble company of celestial race Where each in order of his years had place,— Glorious, as when the sun, his head inclining, Sees his own image ‘mid the waters shining.

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To greet them with a gift Himálaya sped, Earth to her centre shaking at his tread. By his dark lips with mountain metals dyed, His arms like pines that clothe his lofty side: By his proud stature, by his stony breast, Lord of the Snowy Hills he stood confest. On to his Council-hall he led the way, Nor failed due honour to the Saints to pay. On couch of reed the Monarch bade them rest, And thus with uplift hands those Heavenly Lords addressed: ‘Like soft rain falling from a cloudless sky, Or fruit, when bloom has failed to glad the eye, So are ye welcome, Sages; thus I feel Ecstatic thrilling o’er my spirit steal, Changed, like dull senseless iron to burning gold, Or some rapt creature, when the heavens unfold To eyes yet dim with tears of earthly care, The rest, the pleasures, and the glory there.

Long pilgrim bands from this auspicious day To my pure hill shall bend their constant way. Famed shall it be o’er all the lands around, For where the good have been is holy ground. Now am I doubly pure, for Gangá’s tide Falls on my head from heaven and laves my side. Henceforth I boast a second stream as sweet, The water, Sages, that has touched your feet. Twice by your favour is Himálaya blest,— This towery mountain that your feet have prest, And this my moving form is happier still To wait your bidding, to perform your will. These mighty limbs that fill the heaven’s expanse Sink down, o’erpowered, in a blissful trance. So bright your presence, at the glorious sight My brooding shades of darkness turn to light. The gloom that haunts my mountain caverns flies, And cloudy passion in the spirit dies.

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O say, if here your arrowy course ye sped To throw fresh glory round my towering head. Surely your wish, ye Mighty Ones, can crave No aid, no service from your willing slave. Yet deem me worthy of some high behest: The lord commandeth, and the slave is blest. Declare your pleasure, then, bright heavenly band: We crave no guerdon but your sole command. Yours are we all, Himálaya and his bride, And this dear maiden child our hope and pride.’ Not once he spake: his cavern mouths around In hollow echoings gave again the sound. Of all who speak beyond compare the best, Angiras answered at the Saints’ request: ‘This power hast thou, great King, and mightier far, Thy mind is lofty as thy summits are. Sages say truly, Vishṇu is thy name: His spirit breatheth in thy mountain frame.

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Within the caverns of thy boundless breast All things that move and all that move not rest. How on his head so soft, so delicate, Could the great Snake uphold the huge earth’s weight, Did not thy roots, far-reaching down to hell, Bear up the burden and assist him well? Thy streams of praise, thy pure rills’ ceaseless flow Make glad the nations wheresoe’er they go, Till, shedding purity on every side, They sink at length in boundless Ocean’s tide. Blest is fair Gangá, for her heavenly stream Flows from the feet of him that sits supreme; And blest once more, O mighty Hill, is she That her bright waters spring anew from thee.

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Vast grew his body when the avenging God In three huge strides o’er all creation trod. Above, below, his form increased, but thou Wast ever glorious and as vast as now. By thee is famed Sumeru forced to hide His flashing rays and pinnacles of pride, For thou hast won thy station in the skies ‘Mid the great Gods who claim the sacrifice. Firm and unmoved remains thy lofty hill, Yet thou canst bow before the holy still. Now—for the glorious work will fall on thee,— Hear thou the cause of this our embassy. We also, Mountain Monarch, since we bear To thee the message, in the labour share. The Highest, Mightiest, Noblest One, adored By the proud title of our Sovran Lord: The crescent moon upon his brow bears he, And wields the wondrous powers of Deity.

He in this earth and varied forms displayed, Bound each to other by exchange of aid, Guides the great world and all the things that are, As flying coursers whirl the glittering car. Him good men seek with holy thought and prayer, Who fills their breast and makes his dwelling there. When saints, we read, his lofty sphere attain, They ne’er may fall to this base earth again: His messengers, great King, we crave the hand Of thy fair daughter at the God’s command. At such blest union, as of Truth and Voice, A father’s heart should grieve not, but rejoice. Her Lord is Father of the world, and she Of all that liveth shall the mother be.

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Gods that adore him with the Neck of Blue In homage bent shall hail the Lady too, And give a glory to her feet with gems That sparkle in their priceless diadems. Hear what a roll shall blazon forth thy line,— Maid, Father, Suitor, Messengers divine! Give him the chosen lady, and aspire To call thy son the Universe’s Sire, Who laudeth none, but all mankind shall raise To Him through endless time the songs of praise.’ Thus while he spake the lady bent her head To hide her cheek, now blushing rosy red, And numbered o’er with seeming care the while Her lotus’ petals in sweet maiden guile. With pride and joy Himálaya’s heart beat high, Yet ere he spake he looked to Mená’s eye: Full well he knew a mother’s gentle care Learns her child’s heart and love’s deep secret there, And this the hour, he felt, when fathers seek Her eye for answer or her changing cheek.

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His eager look Himálaya scarce had bent When Mená’s eye beamed back her glad assent. O gentle wives! your fondest wish is still To have with him you love one heart, one will. He threw his arms around the blushing maid In queenly garment and in gems arrayed, Awhile was silent, then in rapture cried, ‘Come, O my daughter! Come, thou destined bride Of Śiva, Lord of All: this glorious band Of Saints have sought thee at the God’s command; And I thy sire this happy day obtain The best reward a father’s wish would gain.’ Then to the Saints he cried: ‘Pure Hermits, see The spouse of Śiva greets your company.’

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They looked in rapture on the maid, and poured
Their fullest blessing on her heavenly lord.
So low she bowed, the gems that decked her hair
And sparkled in her ear fell loosened there;
Then with sweet modesty and joy opprest
She hid her blushes on the Lady’s breast,
Who cheered the mother weeping for her child,
Her own dear Umá, till again she smiled:
Such bliss and glory should be hers above,
Yea, mighty Śiva’s undivided love.
They named the fourth for Umá’s nuptial day;
Then sped the Sages on their homeward way;
And thanked by Śiva with a gracious eye
Sought their bright rest amid the stars on high.
Through all those weary days the lover sighed
To wind his fond arms round his gentle bride.
Oh, if the Lord of Heaven could find no rest,
Think, think how Love, strong Love, can tear a mortal’s breast!

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